Serum vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD)) may influence serum parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels and bone mineral density (BMD). In the present study, we assessed serum 25OHD concentration and its association with PTH and BMD in urban males from Guiyang (N26.57°), the capital city of Guizhou province, Southwest China. We recruited 634 males aged >20 years from the Guiyang Health Measures Survey, and stratified them into three groups according to age: young (20–39 years), middle aged (40–59 years) and older (60–79 years). We measured serum concentrations of 25OHD, PTH levels and BMD of the lumbar spine (L1–L4), femoral neck and total hip. In addition, we also explored the relationship between 25OHD and lifestyle, socio-economic characteristics and medical history by applying covariance analysis and locally weighted regression plots. The results showed that serum 25OHD was <50 nmol/l in 59·3 % of the subjects and >75 nmol/l in 12·6 % of the subjects. Higher level of serum PTH was detected in relation to lower concentrations of serum 25OHD up to 50 nmol/l. A negative correlation between serum 25OHD and PTH concentrations was observed (r −0·207, P=0·003). Mean concentration of serum PTH increased gradually and plateaued while concentrations of serum 25OHD decreased to 50 nmol/l. Gradual increase in serum PTH was observed as 25OHD concentration was <25 nmol/l (P=0·004). BMD values at all sites were greater in the higher serum 25OHD concentration group. This study shows that low concentrations of serum 25OHD were common in males, and bone health was likely to be improved when serum 25OHD values were between 30 and 50 nmol/l.